What Is Chastity & How Can I Be Chaste?THOMAS & JUDY LICKONA WITH WILLIAM BOUDREAU, M.D.
Strongly rooted in Catholic tradition, Sex, Love and You promotes the value of chastity and tell you how your life will be better if you refrain from sexual activity until marriage.
Jason Evert and Crystalina Padilla, both in their 20s, are dating each other and thinking of someday getting married. They also travel the country making a presentation to young people entitled, “What If We Really Love Each Other?”
Their message: “It's possible to have freedom, peace, and romance without regret.”
They deliver this message to thousands of young people — from junior high through college — every year. Those who hear them say things like:
Because we'd heard such great things about them, we invited Jason and Crystalina to speak at our parish, St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Cortland, New York. Nearly two hundred teens and parents turned out. Jason began the presentation by saying:
As a young guy himself, Jason knows that marriage is often the farthest thing from teenagers' minds when they're with someone of the opposite sex. They're thinking about this girl or this boy and the feelings they're having right now. But, Jason said, if you keep in mind the person that you will someday meet and marry, you'll wait for them. And in the meantime, you won't do anything to disrespect or hurt a person who will someday be another person's husband or wife.
To bring this point home, Jason shared the following story. After one of his high school presentations, a guy — call him Bill — came up and said he wanted to know how far he could go with his girlfriend. The conversation went like this:
Just then, another guy who was standing close enough to overhear this whole conversation blurted out in a loud voice, “It would TICK ME OFF!”
Jason's audience erupted in laughter at this, but they got his point: You don't want your husband or wife to be sexually intimate with anyone but you. That's obviously true once you're actually married, but it's also true before you're married even before you meet your future spouse. You want him or her to save that special form of intimacy for you.
Jason told his audience, “That's what kept me from losing my virginity. There was this voice inside of me that said, 'Jason, that gift is for me. Please wait for me.'”
Jason then introduced Crystalina. She began:
You could hear a pin drop as she spoke. Crystalina continued:
Crystalina and Jason went on to talk about how they keep their commitment to purity — by practicing modesty, avoiding tempting situations, and staying close to God through the sacraments and prayer.
“It's a hard lifestyle to live out,” Crystalina said. “Some of your friends will say, 'What, are you better than us now?' Some people will make fun of you. But when you stand on the altar, nobody will be laughing.”
When they finished their talk, the audience gave them a standing ovation.
We wish every young person in the country could hear Jason and Crystalina.1
In the meantime, we hope you'll find help in making the right sexual decisions from the pages of this book. Like Jason and Crystalina, we spend a lot of time talking to young people about this issue. We've listened to their stories. A lot of their stories are in this book.
We've also included a chapter on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by Dr. William Boudreau. As a family doctor, he knows about STDs from treating teens who are upset to find out that they've contracted an STD from premarital sexual activity.
We hope that you'll open your heart and mind to what we have to share with you. And we pray that you'll discover — like Jason and Crystalina — how much happier you'll be, regardless of past mistakes, if from this point forward you save God's beautiful gift of sexual intimacy (in all its forms) for the committed love relationship of marriage.
We hope you know how much God loves you. He wants your happiness even more than you do. He has a plan for your life. Trust him. Open yourself to him. Don't get discouraged if you mess up; we all do. Jesus is waiting, with open, merciful arms, to forgive you; just ask. And ask the Blessed Mother — who loves you with a mother's tender love — to help you in every area of your life. Whatever your problem, whatever your need, go to Mary. She will comfort you, guide you, and intercede for you with her Son.
God bless and keep you.
What Is Chastity?
Chastity is sexual self-control. It means placing sexual intimacy within one relationship and one relationship only: marriage.
Although we've used the word “abstinence” in this book and have encouraged you to abstain from premarital sex, we actually prefer the term chastity when talking about sexual morality.
Abstinence is about what you cannot do (engage in sexual intimacy). Chastity is about what you can do — lead a positive lifestyle that respects self and others. For centuries, chastity has been an admired moral virtue. Author Pat Driscoll defines chastity as “sexual goodness” — living out the truth, beauty, and goodness of human sexuality. In one of her pamphlets, “God's Plan for Sex,” Driscoll boldly states “Sex is great!” and then lists some reasons why it is:
Chastity applies to everybody, unmarried people and married people. How?
For unmarried people (both those planning to marry and those who intend to remain single), chastity means staying pure in thought and deed, refraining from sexual intercourse and other forms of deliberate genital arousal, and expressing one's sexuality in non-genital ways.
For married people, chastity means having sex only with your marriage partner. This form of promised faithfulness between husbands and wives — giving themselves sexually only to each other, never to anyone else — is also known as fidelity. Chastity in marriage also means keeping sex open to life. (We talk more about this in Chapter 17.)
Celibacy is a special form of chastity. People with a religious vocation — for example, priests, brothers, and nuns — take a vow of celibacy. As part of their deep commitment to God and sacrificial service to God's people, they promise to lead a life that excludes all forms of genital sexual intimacy.
The Advantages of Chastity
Molly Kelly, a mother of eight, used to travel throughout the United States and Canada speaking about chastity to more than 50,000 teens and college students every year. Her audiences genuinely loved her; she has a great sense of humor and a knack for using the right phrase. Molly Kelly calls chastity “saved sex.” It's saving sex for the person you want to spend your life with.
When we heard her speak to a standing-room audience of teens and parents, she said:
She then challenged her listeners to think about the reasons for saving sex:
But what if you haven't saved sex? What if you've already given it away? “Start saving it,” Molly Kelly says. She adds:
Remember, chastity is a spiritual, not a physical, state. Chastity is about sexual self-control, an attitude of respect and gratitude for the gift that sex is. Although a person can't regain his or her physical virginity, anyone, at any time, can regain chastity. This is often referred to as “emotional virginity.” Many, many young people have made the decision to return to chastity.
Living a chaste lifestyle is easier when you keep the advantages of that decision clearly in mind. A 17-year-old girl at an inner-city high school in Washington, D.C., offers this testimony:
A young woman in her 20s adds:
What are some other advantages of living chastely? Many of the advantages have to do with freedom — freedom from a negative lifestyle and freedom fora positive lifestyle. For example, chastity gives you freedom from:
You may be able to think of still other advantages of leading a chaste life. As you create a vision for your life and future, you surely won't want it to be associated with pre-marital sex. Only by maintaining or regaining your chastity can you be assured of becoming the person that you — and God — intend for you to be.
How Can I Be Chaste?
Chastity is not something like a jacket that you can put on or take off whenever you like. Chastity is a part of yourself that communicates itself to others in your daily words and actions.
Modesty is one important way to express chastity. Wearing appropriate and non-suggestive clothing, not calling undue attention to your body, and keeping your speech free of sexually suggestive talk are simple ways to let others know what you believe.
In this chapter, we'll share some other strategies for living a chaste lifestyle in a world full of sexual temptations and pressures.
Ways to Say No
As Molly Kelly says, “You say 'No' before you ever go out on a date. 'No' is in the mind; it's a definite decision.”
She points out that there are three kinds of language: verbal language, body language, and clothes language. For “No” to mean “No,” all three types of language must be saying it at the same time. For example:
Another piece of advice is to “Advertise yourself, not your sexiness.” Of course, some young people want to be sexy and provocative. In Sex: It's Worth Waiting For, author Greg Speck comments:
Lusting is not a complimentary term. Speck goes on to offer specific advice to young women:
Modesty in dress, speech, and action is a virtue that applies to everybody, men as well as women. Thomas Lorimer, in his book Why Not? Why Is Pre-Marital Sex Wrong? directs similar words of advice to young men:
How do you say no with words? Saying no often requires more than a one-word answer. It's important to be psychologically prepared for the “lines” that someone may use to pressure you to have sex. Remember, a line demands a comeback that can put an end to the pressure once and for all and really communicate your strong “No.”
Here are some comebacks for some of the standard lines:
Although girls can and do often lead guys on, in our experience guys are more likely to use these kinds of lines to get sex. And, sadly, many a girl has fallen for them. A girl may find it hard to believe that a boy is lying when he says, seemingly with great sincerity, “I love you!”
If you're a girl, you need to know two things: (1) If a boy puts any kind of pressure on you to go farther than you want to go, it shows he loves himself, not you; he's interested only in his pleasure, and he'll sacrifice your physical and emotional welfare to get it; and (2) many guys will lie through their teeth, say anything, and do what ever else they have to do to get sex.
Here is one guy who openly admits this:
Rehearse your lines and dress the part (modestly). Learn how to say “No” with your body, words, and behavior. Remember, saying “No” is the best way to say “I love you.”
“Dating” means different things to different people. In high school and college, formal dating (where the guy picks up the girl, takes her to dinner or a movie, and pays the expenses) is less common than it used to be. For lack of a better word, we'll continue to use “dating” here to refer to the various ways that guys and girls spend time in each other's company.
Whether formal or informal, dating is a way for guys and girls to spend time together, build friendships, develop romantic relationships, and consider prospective marriage partners. However, dating — especially single dating — is also the likely occasion for sexual temptations and sexual behavior to occur. As with other areas of your life that are important, it's important to have a strategy and develop guidelines for the time you spend together with the opposite sex. Here are a few:
We interviewed a group of college students who have made a commitment to chastity, to find out what practical advice they would give to others who want to stay chaste in a world full of sexual pressures and dangers. Here are some of things they said:
Tim: Don't get involved with someone who is sexually experienced. That happened to me in high school. She said sex didn't have to be part of our relationship, but it created a subtle pressure. I always felt as if I was disappointing her. Now I wouldn't involve myself with someone whose convictions about how far to go are different from mine.
Once you get involved in sexual activity at all, you'll go farther than you want to go — maybe not right away, but eventually. There's an old saying, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, and keep you longer than you wanted to stay.” So don't even get started.
Choosing Friends Who Share Your Values
It's vital to have friends who share your values concerning chastity. A study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation found that teens who had friends who resolved to abstain from premarital sex were significantly more likely to remain chaste than teens who did not have supportive friends.
Sandra Hill, a mother and community health nurse, said that at her daughter's high school, small groups of girls pledged to each other not to have sex.
“All it takes is one supportive friend to say, 'I'm not going to do that.' And others will say, 'Well, I'm not going to do that either.' My own daughter and five friends vowed to each other to remain virgins while they were in high school, and they all did it.”
Just as bad company corrupts good character, good company builds it up. Aristotle said, “The brave are found where the brave are honored.” The same is true for chastity.
The Right Kind of Sex Education
There are two kinds of sex education. One kind says: “Don't have sex, but if you can't abstain be responsible and practice safe sex (use a condom).” That's obviously a mixed message — and also a false one since condoms don't make sex safe.
The second kind of sex education is chastity-based. It sends a clear message:
About one-third of public schools today are teaching chastity-based sex education. Obviously, Catholic schools will also take a chastity-based approach. If you find yourself in a sex education course that does not teach chastity as the clear standard — but teaches instead that you can be “responsible” if you practice “safe sex” — be a discerning participant. Evaluate what you're being taught in light of what you've learned and believe about chastity.
Having And Keeping Your High Standards
A woman came to our college campus to speak on the subject of date rape. She had dinner with a small group of women students before her talk.
“Does a guy here think he has a right to sex if he has spent money on you?” she asked.
One of the young women said, “Guys here expect sex if they just pay attention to you.”
The really sad thing is that guys not only expect this; many of them get it. Why? One reason is that there are many girls (and guys) who do not value themselves very highly.
A high school girl reasoned:
Said a young woman in college: “You have to value yourself as a person and value your body.”
Girls often ask, “What if the guy really seems to care about me?” Remember, if he really cares, he won't pressure you to have sex. And if a young woman gives in to pressure for sex so as not to lose him, it shows she values the imagined relationship more than she does her own importance. Her sense of self-worth is not very great.
If a girl loses a guy because she wouldn't give in, she is well to be rid of him. Here's the story of a 16-year-old girl who had that happen to her:
Waiting for the Right Person
Some young women and men have sex because they're so worried about having and keeping a boyfriend or girlfriend or getting someone to marry them that they'll do anything to try to hold on to that partner. What they need is the kind of confidence expressed by a young woman who spoke at a church discussion on sex, dating, and chastity:
Having high standards also means being willing to go without dates — or a mate — until someone comes along who meets those standards.
That's not easy. A friend said to us when her oldest daughter was a senior in college: “Rebecca called the other night. She's very down. Just about all the girls she knows are sleeping with their boyfriends. She's beginning to despair of ever finding a boy who shares her belief in chastity.”
We sympathize with young people who are in that situation. One thing we highly recommend as a way of sticking to your decision to remain chaste is to continue to read books which promote it.
We have listed some recommended books in the appendix at the end of this book. Every author comes at the subject in a little different way, and all are valuable. Every author includes his or her own sample of success and failure stories that are very motivating when your resolve to remain chaste may be at a low ebb. Reading books of this kind is a way to help counteract the continual barrage of sexually permissive messages that are all around you. We think you will be amazed at the difference this makes in your confidence and your resolve.
As you think about and look for the kind of person you'd like to marry, also keep this in mind: A successful marriage requires good character. If someone is selfish, rude, unappreciative, lazy, ill-tempered, or dishonest now, don't count on her or him to change after you're married. As you date a person (one you're getting serious about), ask yourself:
If the person comes up short on questions like these, don't waste time on that relationship.
The best way to find the sort of person you'd like to marry is to become that kind of person yourself. Whatever qualities you admire in other people, strive to develop them in yourself. Develop your own character. Develop your gifts, your talents, and your interests. If you focus on improving yourself instead of trying to put yourself in situations where you might meet Mr. or Ms. Right, you'll become an attractive person — more likely to attract the kind of person you'd be willing to spend your life with.
With God's Help
Our last recommendation for maintaining your chastity is this: Don't try to do it without God.
“Definitely stay in prayer,” said Joe, one of the college students we interviewed. “Ask God to help you know your limits.”
Added Hugo: “It takes a lot of prayer. You have to pray that your relationships will not in any way violate God's laws. The important thing is knowing God's standards and trying to keep them.”
Rachel reminded us that God knows we're not perfect and that we can come to God for forgiveness when we slip: “If you do fall from your convictions, don't think you're a hypocrite. Get right back up. Just say to yourself, I've got to keep trying to live up to godly standards!' Don't let anyone tell you there's no forgiveness.”
Growing numbers of young people are also helping themselves stay chaste by making a formal promise to God. Many, for example, are taking part in a national campaign called “True Love Waits.” There are different forms of the pledge; here is one called the “Pure Love Promise”:
Josh, 15, took the pledge. He says: “Whenever I get in a situation where I'm tempted, I remember it. I consider it a sacred thing. It's enough to keep me from going through with something I would regret.”
Says Traci, a college freshman: “I don't have a boyfriend yet, but I have written a sealed letter to my future husband telling him that I love him enough to wait. I am very excited about the prospect of God having someone for me.”
We want to close this chapter by addressing those of you who may have lost your virginity. You may be feeling bad about that and thinking, “I'm damaged goods — it's too late for me.” It's not. Don't be discouraged. God doesn't want you to dwell on past mistakes, which we all make. He can heal you and make you whole.
You can choose now to follow chastity as your future path. You can recapture all the freedom and other benefits of chastity. Writes Pat Driscoll:
God will bless you for this decision and give you abundant grace to carry it out. Help yourself by leaving behind old relationships that involved sex. Ask for God's help every day in prayer. God won't let you down.
Thomas & Judy Lickona with William Boudreau, M.D. "What Is Chastity?" & "How Can I Be Chaste?" Chapter 15 and 16 in Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2003), 7-10; 151-155; 156-169.
Reprinted with permission of the authors. Order Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision here.
Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland. He is the author of Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues (Touchstone, 2004) and the Christopher Award-winning book Educating for Character (Bantam Books, 1992). He has also written Raising Good Children (Bantam Doubleday 1994) and co-authored Sex, Love and You: Making the right decision (Ave Maria Press, March 2003). Thomas Lickona was instrumental in development of the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs. He is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Judith Lickona is a mother and homemaker. She and her husband Tom speak together to teenagers and their parents on the subjects of sex, faith, and respect for life. .
William J. Boudreau, M.D., is a family physician who sees young people as part of his medical practice. Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a doctor, he speaks to teens and young adults on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
Copyright © 2003 Thomas Lickona, Judy Lickona & William Boudreau
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.